Coping with the loss of Pat Neshek

Okay, so if you're a frequent reader of this blog you probably have been wondering: "hey, why haven't the heavenly peanuts written anything in a month? Are they trapped under something heavy like an armoire or a zeppelin?" No gentle reader, we were only trapped under the soul crushing obligations of graduate school; in particular, I was up to my neck in Masters Thesis frooferah. {Long story short: after many revisions, speeches, extra revisions and technological snafus I am a Master of my (intellectual) Domain! This means less with the working, and more with the obsessive Twins following, so win-win!}

I'm also writing today because I was personally surprised at how much a little blurb on ESPN affected me yesterday morning. Quoth the behemoth of sports journalism: "The San Diego Padres have claimed right-hander Pat Neshek off waivers from the Minnesota Twins."

I saw that and my first thought was: "What? No...this has to be some kind of mistake." But sure enough, Sideshow Pat's taking his side-slinging act to southern California. My next thought was: "What the fuchia Twins? Don't let this happen! Stop it!!" Then I thought: "Didn't we get anything for him? A prospect? Some cash?!? Something?" And then, I sighed, remembered that for as much effort as we care about the Twins, Pat might have a better career in an easier league with a team that can play him. Then I smiled at the happy memories and wished him the best. I talked with Stinky through most of my reactions and she had many of the same feelings. I called my mom and she too felt as flabbergasted, confused, but ultimately hopeful for him.

After all this, I realized that I had gone through a minor form of the stages of grief over a baseball player...not a dead one, a traded one...and not a big star, a middle reliever whose best year was 3-4 years ago. I suddenly imagined what some of my non-sports-mad friends would say at my behavior. Sitting around, rolling their eyes, clucking their tongues and saying: "shouldn't you worry about something more important than this?"

So I wonder...is it wrong of me to have so much emotional investment in a ballplayer that I grieve when he leaves my team? He's a professional athlete doing what he loves to do, and he does not know me, or (probably) care who I am and how I feel. I've just written a masters thesis, I need to find a job, there are tsunamis and civil wars and police actions and everything...am I totally nuts to care about Pat Neshek?

Answer: Yes. Yes I am...and what's more, I like being this nuts.

See, I think that our modern society lets us live in our own little bubbles. We plug into our i-pods and walk numbly down the street. We watch cable news personalities who endorse our personal views. We cling to what's ours, guarding our belongings, our personal space, our everything with fierce tenacity.

But if you're a baseball fan, you have to connect with other people, you high-five other random fans at the game and nod your approval when you see someone else walking down the street wearing the right baseball cap. Even players in the game have to rely on each other because no single player can dominate the game. You can't play right field and third base simultaneously. You can't hit a double, then call "ghosties" and knock yourself in. Baseball forces us to rely on each other, and I like that.

And over the long season fans and players grow together, and it feels like we're all buddies or neighbors or second cousins. You learn weird trivia, like that Neshek was a vegetarian who went to Butler University. In my imagination, I could have seen Neshek at any Twin Cities grocery store nodding his approval at a guy in a Twins cap and offering his recipe for picking out a ripe eggplant if you said you were confused. Maybe this wouldn't have happened...but I feel like it's more likely to happen among baseball fans/players than among the rest of the populace at large, and I love that feeling.

I don't want to just think about those things that are "more important" than Pat Neshek getting traded, I want to connect with them. The first word of the tsunami, sent me straight to e-mail to check if my old students were okay. And when a gas main blew up in south Minneapolis last week, right away I thought about who could be near the area and how I could help them if they needed me. I want to be connected to other people, and being a Twins fan makes me feel connected with lots of people, the fans and the pros, and even the guy who just got traded.

I hope Pat Neshek does well, I really do. I hope he gets a major league roster spot, and a condo with a view of the ocean and a vegetable co-op next door, and a couple moreButler Bulldog miracles. I hope everybody gets what would make them happiest in the world. And now that my thesis is done and a return to Minnesota is on the horizon, what would make me happy is having some more people to share it with...my family, my friends, my fellow Twins fans and maybe even Pat Neshek (assuming he finds out I exist).

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